Chanthaburi: "The Rabbit in the Moon"



December 20, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

(Have any of you lunatics conjured up the connection between Chanthaburi and bunny rabbits?)

Across the waters of the Gulf of Siam, about a forty minute ferry ride from Koh Chang, lies the city of Trat.  North of Trat is the city of Chanthaburi. 

In Chanthaburi I took my usual stroll, but this time I had a destination in mind - the Holy Mary Catholic Church. The largest Catholic Church in Thailand was built by the French during their occupation of Trat and Chanthaburi Provinces from 1893 to 1905.  This area borders Cambodia - part of colonial French Indochina.

In 1905 the amiable, prudent and wily Thai monarch, King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V), traded the northeastern Thai area of Siem Reap for Chanthaburi.  Siem Reap contains the world-renowned Angkor Wat and a multi-million dollar tourist attraction in Cambodia.

But Chanthaburi has become one of the "orchards of Thailand," with plantations of durian, rambutan, and mangosteen.  Also rubber.  In addition, deposits of precious stones, mostly rubies, are concentrated in the local hills and mountains.  Chanthaburi has become the gem-trading center of Thailand. 

On my stroll in the old Taloung area of town, I wandered into a small gem shop.  The owner displayed a colorful group of red stones that he claimed were from Madagascar.  In Taloung I also found the hillside Bote Buddhist Temple and a second Chinese style temple along with ethnic Chinese residents and shopkeepers.

The Taloung area sits along the Pong Nam Ron River and many of the houses and shops are on stilts over the river's edge.  I found the outdoor "Welcome Coffee Shop" filled with small groups of cheerful and oh so shy school girls.  I ordered a café latte and the Thai snack called Kanom Pang - steamed bread. 

Kanom Pang comes with a choice of toppings: sweetened condensed milk, chocolate sauce or Thai custard.  I opted for the custard bowl and with a small fork, I dip the bread, actually, I drowned the bread with this incroyablesauceextraordinaire.

Have you put 2 and 2 together yet? French influence + bread = kanom (snack) pang ( ?).

The following day I hired a driver for one of my favorite traveling activities: a motorcyle ride in the countyside.

Far outside the city, the mountainside Khao Sukim Temple displays the most extarordinary collection of Buddha statues, jade carvings, ceramics and antique furniture.

Back to the city, on the other side of town, we visit the new Mangkon Buppharam Chinese Temple - sunlit-bright pastel decoration and flower gardens.

Finally, the hillside Philu Waterfall park is crowded with local visitors.  It's a feeding frenzy as the kids feed string beans to the voracious (and they are big!) fish in the wading pools below the waterfall.  

By now we have all put 2 and 2 together.  The "Thai" word for bread is "pang" that seems to me to be derived from the French word "pain."  N'est-ce pas? 

Now, what about all the metal rabbits I see on top of street signs, and the medallions of rabbits on government buildings?  I asked a knowlegeable lady at the hotel.  (Frankly I should have put 2 and 2 together on this one as well.)

The Thai word for moon is the same as the Hindi word, pronounced approxoimately as "chant" as in the "a" in "ado."  And so, Monday in Thai is Wan Chan - the day of the moon. Monday, Montag, Lunes, Lundi, et al are all derived from the Indo-European idea that Monday is the day of the moon.

And so, Chantha-buri is the City of the Moon.

And the rabbits? 

When we Westerners look up in the night sky we see The Man in the Moon.  When Asian people look up at a full moon, they don't see a pockmarked man with a goofy smile staring down at them. No, they see a cavorting rabbit.  The Rabbit in the Moon!  (I haven't been able to see the rabbit yet, but I will keep trying.)

So it's not lunacy that the City of the Moon has the Rabbit in the Moon as its mascot.

There's a delightful Japanese Fairy Tale that explains how the rabbit was brought to the moon:

The final question is: WHY is Chanthaburi called the City of the Moon? 

That question must go unanswered.

 S'il vous plaît excusez-moi, mais personne ne semble savoir.

 A bientôt,

 Monsieur Jean



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